Sun Dec 26 11:38am EST
The U.S. begins defense of its IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship Gold tonight in Buffalo against Finland; and when it comes to defense, Jack Campbell's(notes) the last line and the best chance for the Americans to repeat.
It's not hyperbole to say that Campbell's the primary reason the U.S. owns the gold right now. His 32-of-34 performance in the title game against Canada, after Mike Lee couldn't stop a ball of yarn, propelled the Americans to overtime where John Carlson's(notes) game-winner clinched gold.
But then things got a little weird for a goalie with the world in his glove.
Coming up, Campbell gets his head straight and a few vital links for the World Junior tournament.
Playing with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, Campbell lost five of his first seven starts this season. The 18-year-old suddenly found his confidence shaken, to the point where Spits GM Warren Rychel brought in a sports psychologist in October to work with Campbell. From the Windsor Star:
"I put a lot of pressure on myself and it's all about getting the bad feelings out and focusing on the good feelings," Campbell said. "I know I haven't lived up to expectations they had for me here or my own expectations for myself, but the season's young and there's no reason to get down."
He didn't, and the numbers turned around dramatically, via ESPN Dallas:
He got off to a slow start but has won 10 of his last 14 games and is now 12-9-0 on the season with a 3.68 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage.
Campbell is 11-1-1 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .954 save percentage for Team USA in IIHF events, including the 2010 World Junior Championship.
Kevin Allen of USA Today, who has seen his share of World Juniors, puts Campbell's performance in perspective:
In terms of international success, Campbell is the most accomplished teenage goalie in American hockey history. And there hasn't been a better time in American hockey history to have such a fellow in the U.S. net.
The WJC has been played for 34 years, and the Americans have won two gold medals. Now with Campbell in net, the Americans go into the holiday tournament in Buffalo with probably the best chance to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time.
Head coach Keith Allain still hasn't officially named Campbell the team's starter, and was quick to praise the play of his other netminder, Andy Iles. But one would be hard-pressed to see a situation where Campbell won't be saddled up and ridden hard over the 11-day tournament.
"We like Jack and we like his pedigree," Allain said. "The interesting thing for me about that gold medal game is that he came in off the bench and did the job. That experience alone will go a long, long way. He's a guy that has been in other big tournaments and won. He's been able to overcome adversity and make the big save when you need it, and that's important."
My lingering memory from the U.S. gold last tournament was running the live blog here on Puck Daddy while on the phone for an interview with Scott Ferrell on Sirius. We were both chatting while watching the game. Carlson scored, and Scotty proceeded to scream "YEAH YEAH YEAH [expletive] YEAH [expletive] USA [expletive] YEAH [expletive] YOU CANADA [expletive] YEAH [expletive] USA!"
For 15 minutes.
What will happen this year? A few good links to bookmark:
Y! Sports Canada Junior Hockey.
One-stop shopping for previews, game results and draft implications for the
Buzzing The Net. We're not going to have anyone doing daily Three Stars or game coverage of World Juniors because our Y! buddies at Buzzing The Net have the tournament on lockdown. Daily news, headlines, analysis, news; honestly, if you're following this tournament and not reading Neate Sager and Co. every day then you're not really following the tournament.
The Hockey Spy. Nice viewing guide, players to watch and the search for the next "El Nino."
Puck Worlds. Bruce Peter, who covered juniors for us last season, has great coverage of the tourney over on SB Nation.
The Sleeping Giant. Finally, a collaboration between our own Ryan Lambert and Chemmy from Pension Plan Puppets. It includes posts like, "A guest post on the importance of supporting America because all other teams but especially Canada seriously stink." Just so you know what you're in for.
We will update on Juniors news in headlines and post up any incredible news or highlights; oh, and we'll be live chatting the essential games of the tourney as well.